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Bus Community Light Rail METRO Green Line

On transit, making an impression with poetry

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, March 31, 2017 3:11:00 PM

Michael Kleber-Diggs and Ellen Larsen with their poem and artwork at the Green Line's Western Avenue Station.For the past 20 years, Michael Kleber-Diggs has shared his poetry with a live audience, reading the room and enjoying the conversation that follows. Capturing the reaction to one of his newest poems, The Green Line, has been a little more difficult.

That’s because the poem is part of a new public art project, IMPRESSIONS, that provided local poets and artists a chance to have their work featured inside Metro Transit’s buses and trains and at select stations and shelters over the course of several months.

“When I heard about the project, I was completely enchanted with the idea that I would be, in a way, speaking to people without really knowing that I’m doing it,” Kleber-Diggs said. “That the poem has a life of its own is really the best part.”

Kleber-Diggs’ poem is among the first six pieces to emerge from the project, which began last year with a call for entries that drew more than 350 responses. Community editors with Saint Paul Almanac, which initiated the project, ultimately selected 24 poems to be showcased over the next year.

The poems are accompanied by illustrations by local artists who were partnered with poets and asked to offer their interpretations of the work. Kleber-Diggs' poem is accompanied by artwork created by Ellen Larsen, and can be found at the Green Line's Western Avenue Station (right). 

Kimberly Nightingale, Saint Paul Almanac’s executive director, said the idea for IMPRESSIONS came from a desire to share the kind of work that has been included in the organization’s annual books over the last decade with a broader audience.

“Not everyone is going to buy a book but everyone should be able to enjoy poetry and art, especially local poetry and art, which is our focus,” she said.

The idea got off the ground when Saint Paul Almanac received a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Metro Transit and Intersection, the company that manages transit advertising, are also partners.

The City of Saint Paul is supporting the project with funding for multiple events featuring the poets and artists whose work is featured (the next event will be held in June, when a new batch of poems and artwork are released).

There’s some precedence for combining poetry and transit, too. The Poetry Society of America’s Poetry in Motion effort has brought poetry onto transit systems across the country, including Metro Transit, which participated in that effort more than a decade ago.

Unlike Poetry in Motion, IMPRESSIONS involves only local poets and artists, giving it a distinct community orientation that organizers hope will resonate among passengers. “Hopefully, for the people who are riding, this allows them to say, ‘I can create my own poetry and my own art, and it can be a part of the community, too,'” Nightingale said.

While there isn’t an obvious connection to the Green Line, other than the title, Kleber-Diggs’ poem was partly inspired by his experience riding light rail and using transit over the past 30 years.

Exploring the forest on a camping trip, he began to humanize the trees and imagine them riding the train.

However people interpret his work, though, Kleber-Diggs hopes it serves as a welcome interruption from the norm.

“As an artist, you always want to see art out in the world,” he said. “I’m really exhilarated by the idea that someone will get on the bus and see not just my piece but the other pieces as well and have a chance to connect to them in some way.”

Discover the IMPRESSIONS art!

Take a photo of each IMPRESSIONS piece and send the collection to info@saintpaulalmanac.org with your name and phone number to enter a drawing for a for a $20 Go-To Card and other prizes! The next IMPRESSIONS release party will be held on Thursday, June 1, at Black Dog Cafe. 

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